Service learning at UK

At UK, there are a great number of ways students can get involved with service learning. This type of experiential education provides for a variety of benefits for students. Whether they’re participating in a service club or completing hours for a class requirement, students have the chance to gain experience, skills and can do so while giving back to their local community.

UK offers multiple classes that connect students with their communities through service learning. One of these is CIS 112, a freshman-level communications class. CIS 112 allows students to both develop their service learning experience and hone their communication skills by requiring students to dedicate a certain numbers of hours at a few organizations in Lexington and write papers or create multimedia projects about their experiences. 


Alyssa Harkness, a junior media arts and studies major, took the class last year where she worked with the Allegro Dance Project. Led by Jeana Klevene, the project hosts adaptive dance classes at its two locations, as well as outreach programs so that children with disabilities can participate in dance classes. 

“[I] chose to work with them because of their mission to reach special needs students, as well as their needed roles of in-class instructors and help with marketing efforts through photography and videography,” Harkness said. “As a MAS major, I was really interested in working with an organization with values that I believed in as well as positions that fit my skills and interests.”   

The class was structured in a way that allowed students to work on assignments, such as podcasts and essays, and with service organizations that were tailored to each student’s areas of interest. Harkness worked with her classmates to create a podcast where they described the organization’s efforts, interviewed parents and staff involved with the program and reflected on their own volunteer experience.

“The range of organizations that we could work with, as well as the roles that we could perform with them, allowed for every student to find something they were interested in,” Harkness said. 

Students can also get involved with service organizations like Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity. The BBNVolved page for UK’s branch, the Alpha Zeta chapter, states that the fraternity “strives to help each individual member develop leadership skills, experience friendship on many levels and provide service to others.”

Jackie Tierney, a junior mechanical engineering major, joined APO in 2020 after her sister Ellie told her about the program. Tierney had occasionally worked as an interpreter in high school for their English as a Second Language (ESL) program. 

“That was my first experience of service, and I found it was something I wanted to continue,” she said. “It made me realize that volunteering at different things is a great way to try something I might be interested in.”

During her time at UK and with APO, Tierney has been able to volunteer at numerous events including 5K races, engineering outreach, food prep at the Campus Kitchen and more. And although college requires her to have a more regular schedule, Tierney likes to “take what opportunities arise.”

“When I volunteer, it makes me realize that there’s a whole world outside of exams and homework, and that it’s what I can do out here that really matters, not just the classroom,” she said. 

Instilling a sense of care for matters that are beyond the classroom is one of the effects that service learning can have on students. Three years after her experience with Allegro Dance Project, Harkness still has an interest in helping out her community.

“I definitely think I will get more involved in more service experiences in the future,” she said. 

This is an impact that Tierney said she has also experienced through her service fraternity. “There are going to be moments when you’re volunteering and you see whoever you’re helping’s face light up,” Tierney said. “And it’s those moments that are going to keep you going.”